UN racism conference begins amid widespread boycott

UN racism conference begins amid widespread boycott Geneva - The United Nations Durban Review Conference on racism began Monday in Geneva amid controversy and the notable absence of several Western states.

The United States, Germany, Canada, Italy, New Zealand and other countries have boycotted the conference saying the draft declaration prepared was unacceptable as it included vague attempts to limit free speech regarding criticism of religion, and concern that Israel might be singled out.

The draft text was a slimmed down version of an earlier document which removed many controversial phrases and sections, though not enough to satisfy the boycotting nations.

France and Britain were attending, as was Iran, whose president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, would be the highest ranking speaker at the conference.

Ahmadinejad has made statements questioning the Holocaust and Israel's right to exist. France said it would walk out if he made any anti-semitic remarks.

Norway and South Africa both sent foreign ministers to the conference. Several other African states also sent ministers.

The Pope also voiced support on Sunday for the review process, which is meant to check progress achieved at the national and international levels on fighting discrimination and racism since the first conference in Durban, South Africa, in 2001.

That event was marred by controversy after activists at side events outside the official UN conference pushed an allegedly anti- Semitic agenda and some non-governmental organizations tried, but failed, to have Zionism, the founding ideology of the Jewish State, officially equated to racism.

Israel and the US walked out of the first conference in the middle, though the final document was signed by nearly all UN member states, including European Union nations. (dpa)